Briefing by Alan Baker, Legal Advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
April 24, 2002.
What we’re talking about today is what happened in Jenin. Why? Because the Security Council – as a result of what can only be described as a blood libel initiated by the Palestinians and the Arabs, but taken up by the international community and the Europeans – as if Israel had carried out a massacre of the Palestinians in Jenin.
Since then, of course, we know otherwise. This whole blood libel has basically been unveiled and blown open, and we’re hearing that, if at all, we’re not talking about 300 or 200, but possibly about 80 people who were killed during the course of the fighting in the Jenin refugee camp – most of whom were armed terrorists. There was certainly no massacre.
But, as things happen in the United Nations, this became the subject of a proposal for intervention by the international community. And as a result of our own willingness to prove that we have nothing to hide, and to indicate to the world at large that “here, come and see”, we agreed to a fact-finding team by the United Nations to come to the area and collect information on the recent events in the Jenin refugee camp.
We agreed to this simply because we wanted the truth to come out; we wanted to get rid of this pathetic blood libel that people seem to be believing. Why such a thing wasn’t done in Srebrenica, where 7,000 people were killed in a couple of hours – there was no Security Council fact-finding team.
Or, when the Jordanians killed 8,000 Palestinians on September 20, 1970, there was no Security Council fact-finding team. But, we decided, in order to clean the table, so that the world will believe what we are saying, we will go along with this; we agreed to have a fact-finding team come.
The basis for agreement was Article 2 of the Security Council Resolution, which says: “The Security Council welcomes the initiative of the Secretary General to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team, and requests him to keep the Security Council informed.”
This is what we agreed to, this is what we are prepared to do. This was adopted on Friday, and what we have seen over the last few days is a sort of fogging of this mandate, which would appear to be very clear to anybody reading it, and an alteration of the ground rules of this fact-finding mission.
When one talks about developing accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp, the intention of those who drafted the Resolution was of all the events in the refugee camp: both the fact that the Palestinians had turned it into an armed terrorist encampment, as well as the resulting reaction by Israel in having to deal with the extensive armed nature of the refugee camp.
By the way, this is despite the fact that General Assembly resolutions oblige everybody to honor the special status of refugee camps and not to allow arms to be stored there, produced there, or used there for any purpose. This is one of the functions of the United Nations bodies here in the area, supervising refugees, to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Clearly, they didn’t do very well in this aspect. So, the whole idea of this fact-finding mission was to come and check into the facts regarding this situation, and to report on the facts.
What we saw evolving over the weekend was that this mandate was widened and extended by the statements made, the documentation circulated – it wasn’t necessarily just in the Jenin refugee camp, but there was a statement made that Jenin was just the beginning and it could possibly be elsewhere.
And then, it wasn’t just collecting information, but it was also coming to conclusions.
Then, it wasn’t the recent events in the Jenin refugee camp, but the military activities by Israel in the Jenin refugee camp.
What we saw was a slow expansion of the terms of reference, or the mandate, of the team which we agreed we would cooperate with into spheres which we felt didn’t have any clear framework or boundary.
We were also somewhat surprised by the people appointed to lead the fact-finding team, who were appointed without consulting us. We had hoped that there would be a concentration of military expertise and anti-terror expertise, in view of the nature of the fighting there and of the situation that existed there before the fighting began.
Hence, the Israeli government decided to ask the Secretary General to clarify, together with us, the terms of reference so that we would all know clearly where we stand and the various basic components of a fact-finding mission, which is a standard procedure in United Nations practice, of detailing the mandate – the composition, the modes of movement, the modes of meeting people, of interviewing people, questions of confidentiality, and the way in which the findings of the team will be handled and presented and shown to the sides. All these things need to be set down as they are usually set down in commissions of fact-finding or teams of fact-finding.
This is what we asked the Secretary General to do. We asked that, pending this clarification, the team “hang on” until we can come to an agreement with the United Nations on this.
This is the situation as it stands at the moment. As I said, this position has been very well-stated by the Foreign Minister, that we have nothing to hide. This was a terrible blood libel, another instance of exaggerating and taking completely out of context the situation here and the activities of Israel.
It reminds me – two or three weeks ago, when the first Security Council Resolution, 1402, was adopted, calling upon the parties to cease fire, calling upon the Palestinians to cease terror, calling upon the Israelis to withdraw from Area A, the only thing that anybody remembered in all the approaches that were made to us by the world at large and the Europeans and everybody else was: Ah, you have to withdraw from the territories; everybody forgot that there was also a call to the Palestinians to stop terror.
Here, we’re seeing the same thing. There is this misconception that the whole idea of the fact-finding team is to deal with the alleged massacre by Israel of the Palestinians in Jenin.
Everybody seems to have forgotten that this fact-finding team is to deal with the situation in Jenin that existed, that brought about the need for Israel to have to fight from house to house and to suffer a huge amount of casualties in order not to bomb military targets – which, by any standards of international humanitarian law, can be attacked from the air or in any other way, in view of their blatant military nature.